Are you a control nut like me?
Do you ever have a vision for a client’s home, one that fits them to perfection, and you know that the only way it can happen is if you are in charge of every single detail.
I hear you!
Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as it sounds.
A lot of the time, a client insists on taking control. And it’s hell on wheels when a client either decides or tries to take over.
Dealing with an impossible interior design client isn’t easy (here are some tips on how to do it), but it is possible.
And what’s worse, is that it can happen in the most unlikely of situations and for reasons that have nothing to do with you or me at all. Let me explain…
When Clients Have Complicated Lives, They Feel the Need to Control Other Parts Of Their Lives
Clients have lives, often complicated ones (who doesn’t?), far beyond the depth of the design project they have going with us.
One of my favorite clients was building her global dotcom marketing agency. She had two children in school, and a husband who was sometimes working, sometimes staying at home. Then her parents moved in – at the same time she sold the house I’d done – and she bought a new one that needed a large remodel.
When You Ignore Warning Signs
As is my practice, I planned to turn the project in 90 days. It was a tight timeline and we wanted a lot of custom furnishings, but it was doable.
The first sign of trouble was in the first week of the project when I had some trees cleared from their landscape (I handle landscaping as well as interiors). My client’s husband was home and threw a fit that they didn’t take out the right trees.
Well, in fact, they did, per my instructions. He just wasn’t in on the details.
This was a major warning sign that my client and her husband weren’t communicating, and was something I should have picked up on.
When the Project Becomes a Place to Park Grandpa
It was a couple of weeks later when my client decided to make her aging father the unofficial GC of the project (oh, yes she did).
He didn’t have a background in building or remodeling and had no idea what he was looking at, so of course, he saw nothing but issues (where there were none!).
This resulted in my having to dash out to the site multiple times a day to mediate between him and my contractor and ensure that everything was being done as it should.
They took control out of my hands and put it into a non-professional’s. The lesson? Never let anyone take the control out of your hands – you get paid the money, you make the decisions!
Sometimes you have to put your foot down. You, after all, are the professional.
If you struggle with putting your foot down, here are some tips that might help you gain more perspective on how to be a true interior design professional.
When You Lose Your Peace of Mind
For the next two weeks, I was running out there multiple times a day. My appetite went to zero, and I wasn’t sleeping at night. Despite the fact that all their custom pieces were already designed and on order and everything on schedule for 90 day finish, I couldn’t continue working with her father.
I left a lot of money on the table – but got back my peace of mind. It caught the client off guard and she wrote a very long letter asking me to come back. I didn’t see how I could and stuck to my guns, effectively firing the client.
When You Get The Rest of the Story
Fast forward 7 years later, I’m sitting in a committee meeting at The Commerce Club for a charity event and the former client walks in.
My heart just about stopped.
I hadn’t seen her since firing her.
This time, she invited me for cocktails in the lounge following our meeting and proceeded to spend the next 3 hours apologizing for her behavior and saying how sorry she was that happened.
As soon as I’d left, she started checking with her friends and all of their projects were into 6 months, 9 months and longer and we’d been on track to complete in just 90 days if she’d just stayed out of it.
The piece I didn’t know and found out when we spoke was that on top of her insane schedule, raising kids and dealing with aging parents, her husband was abusive.
The charity we met at was Partnership Against Domestic Violence, she joined because she knew what that was like first hand.
When You Learn to Handle It Differently
Now, I’m not suggesting that she should have told me about this.
But I regret that I didn’t take the time to sit down and discuss the project and completion with her and get it back in my control.
I had lost my peace of mind and frankly didn’t care about my profit any longer. I just wanted out.
When an interior design client takes over, you have a choice.
Are you going to cave in and allow it or will you step up to the hard conversation that needs to happen to reclaim the project that your client hired you to design and deliver?
In business – and especially in interior design – you have to step up. You have to have that hard conversation, or risk losing control, and effectively, losing money.
To learn more about how to step up and fully take control of a project, you may want to consider one of my keynote engagements, which shows interior designers how to get more clients, more income, and more impact. Click here to learn more.
When You Make Your Client the Bad Guy
I see so many designers bitching about how awful clients are, and in truth they can be your adversary or your ally.
It’s largely up to you.
The key is to remember that you often don’t know everything they’re going through. This client had been a model client on her previous project and bought the house with the intention of hiring me to redo it.
She never considered another designer. She needed a place to park her dad and this seemed like the answer. Couple that with the abusive husband (holy cow) that she was supporting and it added up to one bad situation.
Take back control. You will build better client relationships when you get that control back and finish the project. Your client will thank you. You can also read this post for some more simple tips on how to build better client relationships.
When Karma Comes Back
Karma does come back.
She did get divorced, had to sell the house, and lost her business in the dotcom crash, though she certainly landed on her feet by starting a consulting practice and is doing well today.
Sometimes instead of running, when you’re committed to a project, find out the rest of the story and renegotiate your terms of agreement. This project was going to be published and a real star in my portfolio. I never saw it finished.
If you’re a design professional ready to take control of your business, speak to me today! I’m Melissa Galt, an interior design business consultant and business coach for interior designers. I’ve been practicing design for over two decades and have been an interior design business coach and consultant for over a decade. You want to earn more and I’m here to help you make that happen. Contact me today to start making your passive income dreams in interior design come true!
Enjoyed this article? Here are three more to help you grow your interior design business!
This article was originally published on November 9, 2018 and has been updated.